When Julie Baron and her husband started hunting for a home eight years ago, they looked at buildings that had the kinds of amenities that made sense for their life at the time – buildings with fitness centers, bike rooms, storage space, and a garage. They found all that, and a view, at the River Arts Cooperative in Washington Heights, a 244-unit co-op located at Riverside Drive and 158th Street, overlooking the Hudson River.
That was then. Today, the Barons’ life revolves around a different set of priorities, those largely dictated by the needs of their 10-month-old baby boy, Sullivan. To that end, the Barons have expanded their space, buying and renovating the studio next door, and are taking a second look at an amenity they gave scant attention to in 2002: the co-op’s first-floor community room.
With 1,000 square feet of space, 12-foot windows and a bathroom and kitchen, “it’s a terrific space,” gushes Baron, the perfect spot to host classes for toddlers, like “Mommy and Me” yoga, and music.
And not just classes for kids. With the support of the sponsor’s representative, Baron and four other shareholders have created an informal committee tasked with finding programs that would appeal to the cocktail set as well as the “sippy cup” set. So far, the group has issued a building-wide survey, started discussions with a Pilates instructor and Chinese-language teacher, and is exploring offering both fitness and ESL classes. Says Baron: “We are really looking for a space not just to be a space for our building residents, but also for the community in general.”
For Steven Gold, the sponsor’s representative at River Arts and president of Hudson Views Associates, it’s a no-brainer that, to prevent shareholders from moving – particularly parents – means expanding the building’s sales into the family demographic.
About two years ago, says Gold, the building experienced a baby boom. With the increase in babies came an increase in community room usage – for birthday parties, play dates, and rainy day fallbacks. With all the backing and forthing between units and the community room, the board members decided to put in a kitchen and a bathroom.
“We fixed up the room, put in A/C, put in ceramic tiles [and] put in a complete kitchen – microwave, stove, and cabinets – and a bathroom,” says Gold. The entire renovation cost roughly $30,000. About 35 families live in the building, with children ranging in age from two months to fifteen years old, so the community room “is an extremely positive amenity, and we use it as a key selling point for the building. You don’t have this kind of space downtown,” says Gold.
Across town at Le Trianon Condominium on the Upper East Side, its management firm, Vintage, noticed a similar baby boom a few years ago and worked swiftly to accommodate the younger set. After assessing common area use and available space, the board ripped out the sauna and changing room in the women’s bathroom next to the gym, and built a toddler playroom.
“We’ve had phenomenal feedback,” reports Jeffrey Friedman, president of Vintage. When the 63-unit condominium was built in the mid-eighties, there were three children in the building. Today, there are at least twenty-five. While the playroom doesn’t necessarily seal the deal with new purchasers, “it’s a very positive thing to put on the list [of amenities]: terrace, gym, rear yard, and toddler’s playroom. We truly believe it’s a positive enhancement.”
A smart co-op or condo board can not only create a more child-friendly space by assessing what’s available in the building but also by looking at the playroom as a possible revenue stream for the building.
At 200 West End Avenue Condominium, the three-year-old building has a hugely popular Halloween party, run by its management company, Caran Properties. The day starts with a boxed lunch (ordered from Fresh Direct) in the playroom, trick or treating among the units, and then a party afterwards in the children’s room, with a sing-along led by a building employee who is also an opera singer.
“It’s adorable,” says Molly Shifrin, the building’s property manager and the founder of the Halloween party. With a whimsical city landscape designed by the muralist Peter Sis, two long tables, pint-size chairs, and a terrace that includes a climbing rock that looks like a piece of Stonehenge, the children’s room is the perfect venue for the day.
While anyone in the building is welcome to use the playroom, it can also be reserved for private parties. For $250, a (slightly) cheaper cost than renting a commercial space, parents can reserve the playroom for birthday parties and other events, such as book readings. The room is probably reserved about three times a month and is otherwise in use every day, says Shifrin.
There are 85 children among the 166 units, and 80 percent of them under the age of six, so “it gets tremendous use,” she says. “We have sofas, we have some large Rubbermaid toys, a dollhouse, and basketball hoops.” The building also has a playroom committee that disseminates the rules of usage – chief among them, clean up your own mess.
There are two things a building needs to be attractive to families, says Gil Neary, president of the Chelsea-based real estate brokerage DG Neary Realty. The first is washers and dryers in the apartment. The second is space in the apartments for children, but at a minimum, a children’s playroom.
Anticipating a family boom in Chelsea back in the late 1990s, the developer of the Mercantile on Seventh Avenue at 24th Street, Rockrose, built enormous units and included washers and dryers in all the units except studios, and built a children’s playroom, replete with murals, slides, jungle gym, and toys. When the condominium opened in 2000, the units were sold mostly to single people, recalls Fionn Campbell, a member of the original sales team. “Now I will say the majority of people who live in the building have families.”